Yohji let his cigarette fall from his fingers to the water below, gazing down at the dark waves that washed against the side of the dock before lifting his eyes to the boat anchored at the end of the pier. A small stream of people were heading towards the ramp to board, chattering away happily as they passed him. He reached up, giving his hat a small tug, before slipping into the line. He could hear the music as he drew closer, a sprightly tune that made some of those waiting for their invitations to be checked tap their feet in time.
He tilted his head back, peering up at the boat from under the brim of his hat as he edged forward with the line. The Dorogu was a place for the wealthy to dine, a boat that spent a good part of its time anchored at the pier. The inside had been made into a giant dining room and ballroom, and live musicians played all night long. The richest could rent the space for the night, and on such occasions the Dorogu could actually leave the docks to float around for hours. Yohji had heard wonderful things about this boat, gleeful raves and stunning reviews, but he would never be able to afford such a place. The only thing he would ever be able to get off the menu would be a glass of water.
He made it to the front of the line and offered his invitation with a disinterested flick of his hand. It was checked against the list; the young man looked at the name and then at the picture on his clipboard, squinting at Yohji to make sure it was the right person. Finally he nodded, bowed, and gestured the white assassin on. Yohji sniffed and strolled up the ramp.
Too easy. Good ol' Omi.
He tucked the invitation into his inside jacket pocket and slid his hands into his pants pockets, wandering down the polished wood deck of the boat. For a moment he considered what it would be like to be able to dine on boats like this more often, to wear suits like this every day or at least a couple times a week. The one he was wearing was one Kritiker had supplied. All of Weiß was given a fine suit for when it was required, but they did not often have the chance to wear them. Yohji debated over what it would be like to be wealthy before deciding against it. He was content with his lot in life, with just a little more money than he needed to survive. He would grow uncomfortable around the rich crowds, and he would spend too much time worried about appearances and shallow things that concerned those that oozed money from their pores. No...It was nice being middle of the road, the average man.
Average save for how he stayed alive, but that was a detail no one needed to worry about.
He nodded to those he passed, following a small trickle of people heading towards an open door. It led into the brightly lit dining room. An eight-piece jazz band was playing on a raised stage. The saxophone wailed in a solo as businessmen and associates nodded greetings to each other. Everyone knew each other, whether by face or reputation. A list had gone around to all of the invited listing information on everyone coming. Yohji had spent a good two hours memorizing facts to know who everyone was. He himself had been listed as a successful stock broker who was rumored to be the heir to Rokugou, a giant international trading company. The real Himoguchi Tarou was still overseas; his invitation had never made it to him. No one at this party knew what he was supposed to look like, so it had been pathetically easy to slide Yohji into his slot.
He found himself caught in a small swirl of greetings now, a throng of murmuring and bowing. Everyone was curious about him, this man that had just come from Lithuania. They questioned him eagerly about it, and he wove short tales and descriptions passed on by a field agent currently stationed at the United States embassy there. They were impressed, and he could see that they would love to badger him more about it, except for the rules of courtesy that made such an interrogation rude. Yohji excused himself from the clump with a smile and made his way towards the drinks.
He had taken the mission by himself. It was easily a one man job, and he had asked for it knowing that he was the best person for it. Omi and Ken would never be able to pull off the businessman look. Aya might, but it was plain fact that Yohji was the better pick. He hadn't even allowed his teammates to start going through the process of elimination amongst themselves; he merely lifted his cigarette and offered to take it. Ken had feigned shock at Yohji's apparent willingness to take a mission.
Ken was a brat.
Yohji grinned to himself as he selected his drink. The server filled his glass and offered it; Yohji accepted and turned away. He lifted the glass to his lips, savoring the dark taste of the wine. The mission was simple outside of the acting. There were two targets, two guests who had ties to each other. Before the boat touched dock again, they were both to be dead and overboard.
He looked for them now among the crowd, idly skimming the crowd and waiting for his memory to kick in. There were twenty-three businessmen here, all dressed in dark grays or black, twenty-three faces Yohji had had to memorize last night.
...Make that twenty-two.
Golden brown eyes met his across the room; a face that was distinctly not Japanese was tilted towards him. When Crawford knew Yohji had noticed him, a faint smirk quirked at the edges of his lips. Yohji sighed into his drink, an amused and exasperated noise, before lifting his glass slightly in acknowledgement.
He had considered the possibility of Schwarz coming along, but Omi had reassured him that he could find no ties to either of the targets. It was one thing to meet Crawford on the streets; it was another to meet him while he was working. No matter what sort of conversations they held elsewhere, this was work and there was nothing to stop them from killing each other here. Yohji carried his drink to a table, squashing the beginnings of regret that he had Crawford were apparently crossing blood paths. It would have to have happened some time or other. He just couldn't deny that he had a new interest in the man.
But it was better to lose the interest than to lose his own life. Yohji seated himself and idly tapped his fingers along the rim of his glass, sending another look in Crawford's direction. He was talking to a lady, a very pretty young thing in dark green. The wives were beginning to drift in from gossiping and judging each other outside, and now they sought out their husbands. Quite a few glanced Crawford's direction with interest, fascinated by the impeccably dressed foreigner in their midst. There were a few whispers that died down as the band finished their current piece. A tall man dressed in jet black with pepper hair stepped up onto the stage, looking around for everyone's attention. The girl in green took hold of Crawford's elbow and hurried him with her to two empty seats before turning a sunny smile on the stage.
Yohji looked from the woman to Crawford, wondering about the relation between them. The two had to know each other somewhat; the way she was sitting so close and the way she had touched him was too familiar for them to be strangers. Was she Crawford's employer? Unlikely; even a woman would think twice before being so friendly with a subordinate. Perhaps the wife of an employer? No, no wife of the type of people Crawford hired would be so familiar with a bodyguard when her husband was present. Maybe a lover? He toyed with the idea, amused and interested despite himself.
There was silence then, and the man on stage launched into a welcoming speech. He was the host of the party, a higher up in the world of real estate. He was a good man; the majority of the crowd present was. There were just the two that needed to be weeded out. Yohji let his eyes wander across the crowd, searching out their faces once more. He hesitated when he saw Crawford again; the man had his full attention on the speaker, apparently. Crawford was decked out in a dark gray suit, interesting because Yohji had only ever seen the man in white or cream. Such pale colors would have been a bad idea in this crowd, however. Crawford stood out enough as it was by being a foreigner.
He forced his eyes on, searching for his targets. He eventually managed to place one at the back of the room, but the other was gone. A light frown graced his lips. Maybe the other one was in the restroom? They were supposed to both be here- they had declared their intentions of coming. It was important that they come, for they had a business transaction to complete tonight with each other.
Well...The other would show up. Yohji had the whole night to find him.
There was much applause after the speech, and Fujiko stepped off the stage with several warm smiles and bows. As he reached his seat, servers started entering with carts of food. There was a murmur of appreciation from all seated as the delicious smells filled the room. Yohji watched the food approach with interest. Fujiko was picking up the tab for the evening; it was the only way Yohji could ensure he would eat dinner tonight.
They were served and the band played quietly in the background. Yohji ate what he was served and divided his attention between his target and Crawford. Crawford was on the other side of the room from Yohji's target and hadn't glanced in that man's direction once, but that didn't mean the American had no connections to Arasuka. Yohji gave up on the two at one point to savor his meal; it was the best he would ever have the chance to eat in his life, so... Why should he let another assassin and some corrupted businessman ruin that for him?
Deciding that that was excellent logic, he dug in.
The dancing began shortly after dessert had been served. Fujiko took his wife to the floor and invited everyone to join in. Those that weren't picking at creamy pies or soft puddings obliged his eager request. Yohji looked up from his pudding in time to see Crawford's girl tugging on his elbow. Crawford said something that made her laugh, then rose to his feet. They wandered to the dance floor, the last pair and therefore the closest to where Yohji sat. Pudding forgotten, Yohji turned his full attention on the two.
The two were speaking, but they were still too far away for Yohji to catch the words. He could hear their voices, but that was it. The woman had a pleasant voice and a nicer laugh, the perfect sound to go with one so attractive as she. Crawford should consider himself very lucky indeed if that woman truly was his lover.
Golden brown eyes flicked to his for just a moment, meeting his gaze. Yohji waggled his eyebrows at the other man and thought he saw the faint beginnings of an amused smile quirk the American's lips upwards. Then Crawford turned his attention back to the woman in front of him as the music started. It was a sprightly tune, and the crowd began to dance.
There were some that could not keep up; two of the older couples were content to just hold onto each other and sway gently on the edge of the crowd.
There were those who tried their hardest, laughing as they moved and attempted to keep up to the beat.
There were those that knew what they were doing, and they drew admiring looks for their skilled footwork and seeming ease in moving to the music.
And then...there were those who owned the music.
Crawford and his partner were by far the best pair on the floor, and it didn't take anyone long to figure that out. Where others moved, they _danced_, flowing in time to the beat. Their footwork was perfect, her spins were beautiful, and they exuded grace as they moved together. By a minute into the tune, almost everyone else had stopped to stare at this foreigner and this siren who put the room to shame.
As for Yohji...His spoon of pudding was forgotten halfway to his mouth as he stared.
Yohji was a dancer. He lived for the night, for both the long walks in the dark and the primal rush of clubs. On the dance floor, he was king. He knew how to dance; the music was a part of him. The bass replaced his heartbeat until there was nothing but raw heat left behind. Yohji could dance to the neon lights and the pounding music, but he would be out of place on a floor like this. It _showed_ that he was meant for another kind of dance; he had attempted steps to tunes like these and while he had not been hopeless, it had been clear to the others that knew how to dance that he was not at home here.
But Crawford's dancing...He and Crawford danced to ultimately different tunes. Yohji knew the dance of the moon, Crawford the sun. Crawford knew this music; this was the tune that resounded in his soul, and Yohji could not help but stare with everyone else in the room and wonder in recognition of such skill.
Where had Crawford learned to dance?
Where had he learned to dance like that?
Who was Crawford, anyway? A man who smoked infrequently, a foreigner completely at home in a culture far different from his own, with the prettiest girl in the room on his arm, who knew how to dance...A man who guided a ruthless team of assassins in both starlight and sunlight to protect those that twisted society however they liked and killed both the innocent and the guilty.
It was all so very confusing. Something was distinctly wrong- Yohji could feel something akin to uneasiness sitting in his stomach. He wasn't sure what it was, but he lowered his gaze to his table. It was then that he noticed his spoon was hanging in front of him. He dropped it slowly back to the bowl and studied the remains of his meal with disinterest. His appetite was gone.
He rose from his chair, pushed it back under the table, and excused himself from the room. At the doorway he paused and looked back. The tune had gone over and now Crawford and his lady were accepting a roar of applause from the rest of the crowd. The lady was taking it with pleased laughter, touching her long fingers to her lips as she looked around the room with glowing eyes. Crawford inclined his head to the room, and the woman beside him stretched up on her tiptoes to say something to him, her lips close to his ear so he could hear over their audience's enthusiatic clapping.
Yohji slipped out of the room, wandering further down the deck and away from the lights. The prow of the boat was unlit and he leaned against the railing, gazing up towards the sky as he fished around for his pack of cigarettes. Even floating away from the city, it was hard to see the stars. The lights carried too well, and there were enough lights on the boat as well to block them out.
He dropped his eyes to the water instead, lighting a cigarette and propping it between his teeth.
~I know absolutely nothing about you.~
That's what tonight showed him. No matter what he debated on in his room, no matter what he considered and scratched at, the end result was that he knew absolutely nothing about Schwarz's precognitive. That bothered him.
He hoped Crawford wouldn't oppose him on the mission tonight.
It would be a shame to have to kill someone that could dance like that.
"Does your offer still stand?"
Yohji glanced over his shoulder at the voice, wondering if he should be surprised to see Crawford standing there. He studied the American for several moments, searching the taller man's face for who knew what, before turning around and leaning his back against the railing. "Which offer?" he asked, exhaling smoke to one side. He was on his third smoke now and still had been unable to untangle his thoughts. The music had kept him company, along with the growing ruckus of a crowd that was slowly getting drunk.
"I left my cigarettes on shore."
Yohji considered it, then dug out his pack and held it out. Crawford offered him the briefest, faintest of smiles before accepting one. Yohji passed him the lighter next, resting his own cigarette between his lips as he stuffed his pack back into the inside pocket of his jacket. He watched as Crawford lit it, watched that hand encircle the flame so it would not be blown out in the evening breeze. He returned the lighter and Yohji took it, hesitating for a moment as his fingers absorbed the warmth from it- warmth from fire and two hands. Then he slipped it back into his pocket.
"You look troubled," Crawford observed, moving up towards the railing to peer over the side. Yohji did not bother to turn around again, instead gazing sideways at the other assassin. Like Yohji, Crawford glanced skywards before dropping his eyes. His gaze settled on the horizon as he parted his lips to let smoke slide through. "I could guess that it's because you are on a mission tonight, but I doubt that is anywhere near the cause of your concern. What is one more life to one such as yourself?"
"Is that why you're here?" Yohji asked.
"I am not an associate of Arasuka's, if that's what you're asking. I have no interest in him at all."
Mild relief; Yohji squished it. "Here for the girl, then?"
Crawford flicked him an amused look. "She is Fujiko's niece. I have done work for him before."
Yohji frowned. "Since when would Fujiko need Schwarz?"
Crawford took a long inhale before answering. "Schwarz does many things, Kudou. Whereas Weiß is solely a seek and destroy group, we are capable of and called upon for a great many tasks. Not everything we do requires our employer to have red hands." Yohji considered that. "But, as I said, the job is not what is bothering you."
Yohji didn't answer that, both because he wasn't sure how to put his uneasiness into words and because it was absolutely none of Crawford's business. Crawford allowed him a few moments of silence, but at the faint smirk that graced his lips Yohji knew the American hadn't been expecting a response anyway.
"If you will not make conversation, I will. Let me tell you something about Schwarz, as you seem to not understand them as much as perhaps you hoped you had."
Yohji flicked his cigarette butt over his shoulder, turning sideways to face Crawford and letting the wind whisk away the smoke he exhaled. Expectant green eyes met calm honey.
"Schwarz and Weiß, black and white, two assassin groups fighting on opposite sides of the lines...They are inverses more than perhaps Weiß chooses to acknowledge. The eight of us are more alike than we are different - mirrors of each other, in fact. Weiß accepts this, I believe, in the way they divide the group so that its members fight among us the one they feel is most their reflection."
Yohji considered that. It was true; the groups fell apart the same way when they met to fight. Crawford was waiting on him, so he nodded.
"Weiß is wrong," the American said simply, stubbing his cigarette out on the railing before letting it get lost among the waves. "You divide us by simple things and miss the larger picture. Why is it that Weiß creates such pairs? Fujimiya and myself? Tactical leadership binds us, I suppose. You and Schuldich? The social sarcastics of the team, the jaded ones, supposedly. Hidaka and Farfarello? Blades cannot tie those two together strongly enough. Tsukiyono and Nagi? Their age is no reason to line them up mentally. Maybe it is convenient for Weiß to enlist such pairings on the battlefield, but they have begun to infiltrate your thoughts."
Crawford made a vague gesture with his hand as he turned to face Yohji. "It is Fujimiya and Farfarello that are reflections of each other. They are each other's shadows. Both fight for the family they lost; both recognize themselves as killers rather than assassins. Each devoted their lives to avenge the one who had destroyed them- Takatori and God. Whereas Fujimiya achieved this and is now trying to regain his footing, Farfarello will be unable to ever soothe his hatred."
Yohji frowned faintly; not in disagreement but in thought. Crawford continued on without giving him much time to sift through that, so he shoved the thoughts away where he could consider them later. "Hidaka and Nagi are each other's true pair. They are the ones that were drawn into a life that does not truly fit them. Hidaka is not meant to be an assassin; he is still drawn to what he views as innocent and clean. Nagi is an assassin because that is what he has trained to be, but a part of him is still a child looking for something untouched by the world's hatred.
"Tsukiyono and Schuldich belong together." Crawford ignored Yohji's slight snort of disbelief. "They are manipulative and commanding, more dangerous than they let on. An innocent or carefree front leads many to underestimate the power and intelligence hiding under the mask. They are older than their years, aged more dramatically than the rest of the eight by their own circumstances."
"Omi is nothing like Schuldich," Yohji said. "Omi believes too strongly in the good of things."
"He believes in them so he will not go mad," Crawford answered simply. "He forces himself to believe in them to keep himself afloat in a sea of darkness, in a heart that is turning cold. He is ruthless and possessive beneath it all, more than he lets on or knows. He and Schuldich are also identical in how they cannot afford to lose their team. You do know that Tsukiyono would self-destruct if he were to lose his team, don't you? He has too much poured into his current teammates to be able to lose them. It's a foolish position for an assassin."
"But one Schuldich has fallen into as well," Yohji responded automatically, defending his younger teammate. His thoughts were whirling with this different insight on his team. He had catalogued his teammates years ago and had not bothered to go back; there were too many other people out there for him to return to Weiß.
"Necessary, for one with a gift like his." Crawford shrugged.
Yohji glanced to the right, saw that woman from earlier standing further down the boat, looking around as she tried to spot the American. He looked back up at the precognitive to find brown eyes studying him. "Then you and I are the same," he concluded. Yohji frowned faintly, the expression showing more of his uneasiness than he meant it to. "I can see it..."
Crawford did not answer. He merely nodded and turned away, starting towards the woman. When he was five feet away, he glanced over his shoulder and sent back some final words to the white assassin:
"Do us both a favor...Do not kill Arasuka tonight."
Yohji wasn't sure what to say to that. He could do nothing but stare at the American as he headed away. He opened his mouth even though he didn't know what words to say, then closed it again. The woman had spotted Crawford and was hurrying towards him. Crawford met her halfway and she dragged him back inside, her lilting voice carrying but her words lost.
Crawford didn't look back.